This is Stuart Weir’s piece on Jake Wightman and his view of the crazy season that had just ended.
Jake Wightman looks back on a strange year
I have seen Jake Wightman run over 60 times including winning European Championship and Commonwealth Games medals and winning a Diamond League race in Oslo. He has been featured twice in RunBlogRun this year – an interview feature
and when he was also one of Larry’s victims in Socialing the distance
I caught up with him again this month to get his assessment of his rather strange 2020 season. He spent some of lockdown in the US and some in England, fitting in some altitude training, buying some gym equipment when the fitness centers closed and generally being creative
Jake is unsure if his fitness and performance have suffered this year: “I can’t really tell you because I don’t know how I would have run if I had had access to everything. I might not have run better or as well because you never know how these things work. All I can say is that I think I ran as well as I could have in the circumstances, so I think it would’ve been marginal how much better I could have run if I’d had better preparation”.
I love the understatement of “I ran as well as I could have in the circumstances” given that he clocked 3:29.47 in the Herculis in Monaco – a time which is a little bit faster than Coe, Cram or Ovett ever did!
Let’s start the assessment of his season with that race: “I went into the race in Monaco knowing that I could run something quick but I wasn’t sure if it would happen. Because it was my first 1500m, it might go well but I might blow up if I committed to it. In Monaco you seem to be able to run ridiculously quick times compared to what you have done before, so it was whether that would happen or whether I would run a good time but nothing like the time I did run. But there was literally nothing to lose. I also think that everyone we race against is beatable”.
He stayed in the race and was in fourth place on the last lap. He passed Filip Ingebrigsten but finished behind Jakob and the race winner, Timothy Cheruiyot. While he was well satisfied with the time, he did wonder if he should have tried to take Jakob and Timothy over the last 200. As he explained, the aim of a race is not to be a fast loser: “I think in a Diamond League you run for the place, which you assume will bring the time. And you know that if you win in Monaco, the time will be quick. So I went into Monaco trying to win it but also you’re coming away with a good time. But it’s important to be winning races. If you’re on the start line and you’re not trying to win it, you need to have a think about it, because if you carry on with that attitude into championships you won’t win any medals”.
Monaco was his second race of the season and it was his only 1500m. Was he tempted to look for a second 1500m race to build on his excellent performance in Monaco? “Not really because I always knew that Monaco was the best 1500m opportunity and then it was going to be only 800s. The work had been doing up until that point favoured 1500s and we did more 800 specific stuff after that. I think if I had done a 1500m later it would’ve been worse because we had not focused on being as fit for 1500. In the build up to Monaco we had worked specifically on being ready for a 1500m.
“I had a massive lull after Monaco because from a point of both mentally and physically you are so high that afterwards it’s hard to get yourself going again. I may have run 3:29 but I was training as if I had just run 3:45 for the next couple weeks. It was just: ‘is anything I do in the rest of the season going to be as good as that?’ It was hard to get myself motivated to want to go out again and race. My first race after Monaco was in Poland where I was awful [1:46.11 at the Janusz KusociÅ„ski Memorial, ChorzÃ³w for fifth place]. I needed that, as a kick up the backside, to tell me that I didn’t have a lot more opportunities this season and that I would waste them if I don’t get myself ready to go again”.
The rest of the season was a series of six 800m at five meets in five different countries including winning the Ostrava Golden Spike in 1:44.18. He summed up what he got out of series: “I learned how to race 800s better and how I race 800s”. He wants both to be able to competitive in 800s and to take into a 1500m the belief that he is as fast as anyone over the closing stages.
The state of British GB middle distance running has rarely been more competitive, what I wondered, did Jake make of it? “It’s mad at the moment. For the Olympic Games it is such a big deal to make the team – and I missed out in Rio – so part of me wishes it wasn’t so strong so that you could guarantee making the team. But that’s not the point because you want to be pushed to be as competitive as you can be. One thing that comes from strong domestic competition is that we become strong internationally. It’s no good walking onto a British team and then getting knocked out in the prelim. If you make the British team you want to know that you’re capable of reaching the final if not getting a medal. So you just have to realize that you have to be better to make the team.
“In 2016 you just had to run under 3:36.2 to qualify for the Olympics and only two British athletes could do that – I couldn’t. Now the qualifying standard has dropped to 3:35 but even running that won’t guarantee you to make the GB team. In the past year four of us have run under 3.33 – which is ridiculous compared to five years ago when hardly anyone was running under the 3:36. But it’s only a good thing and hopefully means that we can become a powerhouse like Kenya, who seem to get three in the final every time. The current situation should guarantee that the Brits will be dangerous. It makes it a challenge to make the team but in the long term that’s not a bad thing at all”.
Just as the pandemic disrupted athletes’ summers, so the winter is uncertain too. Jake usually goes to US before Christmas and to South Africa early in the new year. At the time when we spoke, neither country was open for visitors. Whether he can get in any altitude training this year is up in the air.
Jake is used to running in events where his dad is the stadium announcer. Did the lack of spectators at this year’s British championships mean that there was no crowd to drown out the commentary on race? “Fortunately not!” He replied, “The good thing about racing is that you’re so focused that you blur everything else out”.
The battle, photo 2, Daniel Rowden, Jake Wightman, 2020 British Championships, 800m, photo by Getty Images / British Athletics
As a final question I asked him to choose the three best races of his career.
“European juniors 2013 – at the time that was a very big title for me to win and I’d improved a lot from the previous year.Dennis Rowden
“Commonwealth bronze in 2018 – finishing behind the top two in the world [Elijah Manangoi and Timothy Cheruiyot] with the added pressure of a disappointing 800m when I finished fourth. So coming out a few days later to medal in the 1500m was great.
“The 2020 Monaco race because of the people I beat as well as the time because getting under 3:30 was massive”
2021 could see one of those being bumped off by an Olympic medal.